Ethics panel chides county commissioners $500 homebuilders' donation called a conflict of interest

January 29, 1993|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff Writer

The Carroll County Ethics Commission has ruled that the county commissioners' acceptance of $500 from a local homebuilders group to send a county inspector to an out-of-state convention was "a conflict of interest" and the money should be returned.

The three-member commission, however, ruled out any further action, saying the violation on the part of the commissioners, the county inspector and his supervisor was not deliberate.

The commissioners said yesterday that they were pleased with the decision.

"There's nothing so obscure as the obvious," Commissioner Elmer Lippy said. "This was obvious, and we certainly should have recognized it and we didn't. I shall do better and try to sin no more."

In August, the commissioners voted to accept $500 from the Carroll County chapter of the Home Builders Association of Maryland to help pay for Ralph E. Green, chief of the Bureau of Permits and Inspections, to attend the National Building Officials and Code Administrators convention in St. Paul, Minn., in September.

"It is our opinion there was a conflict of interest involved in this matter, since Mr. Green had a possible vote at the convention on matters which could affect the interests of the Home Builders Association, as well as Masonry Contractors," the commission's decision stated.

According to the Ethics Commission, Masonry Contractors Inc. advanced the money for the county inspector's attendance at the convention and was reimbursed by the Home Builders Association.

Mr. Green, the only Carroll representative at the convention, voted on proposed changes to the national building code.

He voted against making residential stairs lower and wider than now required.

The Home Builders Association opposed the change because it would have increased construction costs and required the redesign of house plans. The proposal was defeated.

County records show that the trip cost $1,352. The county paid $853.

"In our opinion, the County Commissioners should become more versed in such cases, and that the county should return the $500 involved to the Home Builders Association, and refrain from entering into such controversial situations in the future," the decision stated.

Mr. Lippy said he would make a motion Monday for the commissioners to return the money.

Mr. Lippy and the other commissioners said they would be more cautious to avoid future conflicts of interest. "It's something we just have to be more careful of," said Commissioner Julia Gouge.

"I think we probably wouldn't consider that type of request again unless we knew for certain there was no actual conflict."

The commissioners said the incident wasn't "something that was slipped under table."

The commissioners said they accepted the donation to save money.

"It was all out in the open," Commissioner President Donald I. Dell said.

"It wasn't something that was hush-hush."

Mrs. Gouge agreed:

"To us, it was something that helped our travel budget and got someone to a meeting that needed to be there. It was done innocently enough."

Neither Mr. Green nor Jeffrey Powers, president of the Carroll chapter of the Home Builders Association, could be reached for comment yesterday.

The Ethics Commission began investigating the incident in October and released its decision after a meeting Wednesday.

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